This year's Professional Developers Conference, being held here, is serving as the venue for the de facto introduction of the first beta release for Windows NT Workstation and Server 5.0, a much-anticipated operating system upgrade that is expected to close the gap between Microsoft and its rivals in this arena, including Unix vendors and Novell.
Allchin, a systems veteran, told a packed hall on the opening day of the week-long Windows showcase that NT will increasingly become the base platform for all Windows environments, offering a common infrastructure on which other OSes in the Windows family can build.
"NT is going to change the way software is written, it's going to change the way hardware is built," a confident Allchin told the crowd. "Across the board, it's going to have a major impact on your life."
When the final version of 5.0 is released sometime next year, it will contain 27 million lines of code. Much of that bloat is due to enterprise-capable features such as a multidomain directory, which will be added to the OS so that Microsoft can increasingly press corporations to migrate transaction-intensive applications off older systems to NT Server.
"It's a massive release," Allchin noted. "It's the most comprehensive release we've ever tried to do."
Though Allchin showed developers a veneer of assurance that the next release of NT will ship on time, the beta the company will deliver at week's end will still lack some key driver support and will have only limited directory functions.
"His confidence sort of papered over the fact that they don't have a fully featured beta," said Dwight Davis, editorial director for Windows Watcher.
Davis said he would not expect a full-featured beta release of 5.0 until the first or second quarter of next year, pushing final release back even further. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if it went into 1999," Davis observed.
Windows NT 5.0 has been a topic of discussion since last year's Microsoft developer gathering, when the OS was previewed. Included in the final release will be a new distributed file system, support for more processors in an SMP (symmetric multiprocessing configuration), 64-bit very large memory (VLM) support so that larger chunks of data can be stored locally, storage management enhancements, and the long-anticipated Active Directory. New features to enable low-end networking functions will also roll out.
But the 5.0 release is more than just a Workstation and Server version. An enterprise edition with clustering, transaction, and message-queueing capabilities will also roll out in second-generation form, along with a multiuser version, currently code-named Hydra, for a variety of clients. A version of Hydra for NT 4.0 will enter beta next quarter, Allchin said.
Allchin also told developers to think about developing for the small-business version of the BackOffice suite of applications, due to roll out next month. He said the bundle, which offers a 25-user version of BackOffice applications such as Exchange and SQL Server, has a chance to become a high-volume revenue driver for the company. He voiced similar sentiments in promoting Windows NT Workstation 5.0.
Windows NT has come under increased scrutiny as the OS has gained a larger role in corporate networks. Critics say that role remains mainly in file and print capabilities that used to be Novell?s bread and butter. But Microsoft continues to push the enterprise envelope, hoping to gain a larger share of the lucrative applications server market now dominated by various flavors of Unix. And NT is continuing to show strength as a platform for Web serving and intranet installations.
Vocal opponents such as Sun Microsystems continue to downplay NT's enterprise push. The Unix systems giant was recently the subject of a tiff between the Redmondians and the Standish Group when the high-end consultancy came out with a report that minimized NT's role in the enterprise compared to Sun's Solaris Unix variant. An initial response posted on Microsoft's Web site called the claims "ridiculous" before it was pulled down hours later.
The maneuvers highlight a battle for corporate network dollars that will only increase as the Microsoft machine gets more and more comfortable selling a network OS.